Holistic & Natural Support for Allergy Season:
Are you feeling bogged down by seasonal allergies? You’re not alone. As our world continues to evolve, we find that more and more folks suffer from immune issues, whether it be seasonal allergies or autoimmune disorders.
It may seem like nothing can offer true relief, but we invite you to dive deeper into understanding your body. There’s a lot of information here. It may seem overwhelming to learn so much about your body….but keep reading for clear suggestions on what you can do for a holistic approach to allergy support.
Allergies are closely tied to two body systems: the respiratory system and the immune system. Most conventional approaches hyperfocus on the respiratory symptoms while leaving the immune system in the dust–quite literally. While allergy symptoms most often manifest in the respiratory system, this is not where the issue begins. Think of your body as an ecosystem of many parts that are all working towards the whole. Clean air (healthy respiration), Clean water (healthy lymph and liver), Clean earth (wholesome diet resulting in healthy body tissues) and Clean Fire (the natural ability to generate energy due to adequate rest and clean fuel).
A holistic understanding of allergies begins with the immune system. So, what does the immune system do? The immune system helps defend your body from pathogens and intruders. It involves three lines of defense.
- The first line of defense is the skin and mucous membranes. They serve as a physical barrier between you and the outside world.
- The second line is your body’s physiological response mechanisms. This can be broken down into two actions.
- Producing phagocytic white blood cells1
- Signaling a response for inflammation and fever1
These responses are meant to cover a broad range of threats rather than zoning in on a specific pathogen1. This is called nonspecific immunity.
3. The third line of defense is known as specific immunity. This is when the immune system responds to a specific pathogen. It happens when the body has experience overcoming a pathogen. The body is able to recognize the specific pathogen and use past experience to engage in a targeted response.
Holistic approaches view allergies as being related to immune system balance, stress, and gut health. A healthy immune system is able to recognize true threats and respond appropriately. Sometimes, our immune systems are lacking proper training. The immune system needs practice and our modern obsession with eliminating germs sometimes doesn’t leave much room for this to happen.
One modern theory on allergies and auto-immune disease is this: when the body doesn’t get enough natural practice in identifying pathogens, it can develop an overzealous immune system2. This means the cells are quick to jump on other–less threatening–opportunities to perform its job. Research suggests that individuals who were broadly exposed to pathogens at a young age tend to experience less allergies and autoimmune ailments later on in life3.
Research on the role of cytokines in inflammatory and immune response also offers insight into what might be going on for those suffering with allergies. Cytokines act like messengers for the immune system, signaling the body to start an inflammation response if a threat is detected. If your immune system is not familiar with the incoming allergens due to a lack of experience (exposure), or absence of colostrum (4) in the first few days of life-inflammation can become a default way of responding to the immune challenge.
Another modern theory on the widespread immune system dysfunction being seen today: the Aluminum (and other) adjuvants found in most vaccines create an inflammation cycle in the body (often starting in infancy) which train the body’s immune system to use inflammation as the sole strategy to deal with incoming immune challenges.(6) Normal disease processes can also result in chronic cytokine elevation. All this to say, for whatever reason, unmanageable allergies could be a sign of chronic inflammation tied to your body’s cytokine response.
The immune system is complex and there is so much more than germ exposure that plays into its healthy function. Emotions and sleep are also deeply tied to the state of our immune systems. Since the immune system relies on the nervous system for messaging, individuals who experience chronic stress often struggle with compromised immunity. When the nervous system is in disarray, so is the immune system.
One study shows how the central nervous system, immune system, and endocrine system engage in a complex interplay during times of stress. The article focuses on how this interplay interferes with chemical messaging for melatonin production 7. Sleep is crucial for general
well-being. It is essential for most bodily functions, including healthy immune function.
Another factor that could be contributing to allergies is gut health. This is a big topic, but here’s the general idea……….. the body needs healthy levels of stomach acid and balanced GI function to
help protect against germ exposure2. Poor digestive health puts you at a disadvantage, as the body’s first line of defense–the mucosal membranes of the digestive system–is compromised. Maintaining gut health often involves identifying and reducing intake of food irritants, along with incorporating probiotic and nutrient rich foods.
I hope you’re starting to get the idea that your body is an ecosystem. Your seasonal allergies are likely a result of a complex interplay of factors. I know, this probably feels overwhelming. I bet you’re wondering where to start, so keep reading for clear suggestions.
As with most ailments, the best place to start is with lifestyle. To save you from an onslaught of information, I’ve broken down habits into a list of two categories– “DO” and “DO LESS”. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but just in case…. the “DO” list is full of things you could add into your life, or focus more on. The “DO LESS” list is full of things that are likely compromising your immune system. Take it slow–no need to add more stress on your shoulders.
-get enough sleep (at least 8 hrs/night)
-drink enough water (daily)
-ditch anti-bacterial soap and switch to regular soap & water for hand-washing
-limit any known food sensitivities
-eat a nutrient-dense diet, full of fresh fruits & vegetables
-add in anti-inflammatory herbs and foods
-try using a neti pot or a sinus oil if dryness is an issue
DO LESS (these trigger inflammation)
-try to reduce exposure to daily toxins like synthetic fragrances, teflon pans, etc.
-high sugar intake, especially high fructose corn syrup (sodas)
-limit artificial preservatives in food, fried foods, highly processed foods
In addition to focusing on general health and lifestyle shifts, it can also be helpful to support your allergy symptoms with herbs. There are different kinds of herbs that offer different kinds of support. Here are a few categories and specific herbs for allergies.
Immunomodulators: Arguably the most essential category for dealing with allergies. Immunomodulators offer balanced support for your body’s defense system. They create balance within the immune response, providing opportunity to build strength over time. They often offer the body a chance to practice cell signaling, which can train the immune system to produce a healthy response to both threatening and non-threatening microorganisms2.
Immunomodulators help build resiliency, creating a solid foundation for immune function.
Examples: medicinal mushrooms, astragalus, elder, Ready for Pollen spray
Immune Stimulants: Immune stimulants work to activate the immune system to help the body fight off infection2. These herbs are most useful when seasonal allergies lead to secondary infection in the sinuses, throat, or lungs.
Examples: echinacea, goldenseal, turmeric, garlic, boneset, usnea.
Antimicrobials: These are helpful for dealing with throat irritation and sinus congestion. These herbs will help fight any secondary infection that may arise from allergy responses, such as sinus infection.
Examples: goldenseal, oregon grape, bee balm, oregano, usnea, ginger, thyme, hyssop.
Expectorants: This herb category helps the lungs produce a healthy cough. They are the perfect ally for those times when your cough just doesn’t seem to kick the gunk out. It is important to note the quality of the cough before choosing an expectorant. For example, a wet cough benefits from a warm, drying expectorant. A dry, irritated cough does better with a cooling, soothing option. Familiarize yourself with herbal energetics when selecting the right expectorant.
Examples: elecampane, balsamroot, osha root, ginger, mullein.
Anti-tussives: These herbs works to calm coughing. Holistic viewpoints generally aim to encourage healthy coughing, as this is what helps expel mucus from the lungs. But sometimes the body needs a rest. This herb category is especially useful in instances where coughing induces vomiting or leads to a raw respiratory passages. The goal is not to suppress coughing, but to allow for enough relaxation so that the lungs can produce an effective cough. Again, understanding herbal energetics is helpful in choosing the right antitussive.
Examples: wild cherry bark, bee balm, hyssop, khella, lobelia, peppermint, wild yam, valerian,
Demulcents: Helpful for offering gentle repair to mucous membranes. They can be used preventatively, or to offer respite after dealing with ongoing irritation. We carry a couple of blends in store that offer demulcent action: Cool the Palate Tea & Allergy Tea
Examples: marshmallow, slippery elm, calendula, plantain, licorice root
Alteratives: This category helps to create balance within the body, supporting overall health and vitality. They can have an affinity for the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, urinary, musculoskeletal, nervous, and reproductive systems. In general, an alterative helps the body’s eliminatory systems.
Examples: burdock, red clover, nettles, cleavers, echinacea.
Antihistamines: You’re probably most familiar with this term in conjunction with common allergy medications. Herbs can have antihistamine action, too! Herbal antihistamines suppress the body’s histamine response by blocking or binding to histamine receptors7. Histamines are chemicals your immune system makes to trigger inflammation to focus the immune system on an intruder: the allergen protein7.
Quercetin is a natural and helpful antioxidant/flavonoid that has antihistamine action while also working to protect against tissue damage. Quercetin and nettle are a potent preventative combo for seasonal allergies.
Examples: nettle leaf, goldenrod, Chloroxygen, & chlorophyll in general **note: brew your nettle cold to get the most chlorophyll!
Sinus-decongestants: These herbs will help drain mucus from your sinuses. Examples: horseradish, ginger, yerba santa, onion, turmeric, nettle, bee balm, goldenrod.
Astringents: Allergies can often lead to excess mucus production which leads to symptoms like post-nasal drip, sneezing, coughing, and runny nose. Astringent herbs help to tighten tissue and reduce boggy, mucus-ey states. They can be drying, so discontinue use when mucus subsides.
Examples: nettle, elderflower, yarrow, goldenrod, Clear Passage tincture
In addition to the above herb categories, keep reading for a few deep dives on allergy-relief superheros! These herbs are great for preventative support. They help create a more balanced immune response. You can find them in our store (link to bulk herbs list).
Energetics: drying, salty, slightly cooling
Historical Use: One folk use for nettle is flogging. This is a practice that has long been revered by Native Americans for alleviating arthritis pain/joint pain. The sting releases anti-inflammatory compounds and pain-relieving compounds which offer respite from inflammation. This offers temporary relief. Nettle has also been used for hair care. Because of its high mineral content, it can help increase the strength of hair shafts when applied topically.
Western Therapeutics: Nutritive: Nettle is a top-tier ally for basic nutrition. Nettle is high in iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and chlorophyll2. Nettle offers one of the most bioavailable forms of calcium, meaning that the calcium is more easily absorbed than other calcium sources. Nettle is also high in vitamins A, C, and D8.
Anti-inflammatory/antihistamine: Nettle also helps reduce histamines, which can improve allergy responses–including reactions from environmental pollutants.
Astringent/tonifying: This plant also helps tone respiratory, uterine, bladder, stomach, and kidney tissues. This can also help with boggy, mucus-y tissue affected by allergies, and also supports these body systems in performing their jobs effectively.
Diuretic: It makes you pee! And also supports the kidneys’ cleansing process.
Blood Building: It’s a blood builder AND blood cleanser. This plant’s high iron content makes it a superb ally for supplementing iron. Iron is essential for producing hemoglobin, which is the protein molecule in red blood cells8.
Contraindications: Considered one of the most safe herbs to use!!! There is some room to exercise caution around its diuretic effect. For those with dry constitutions and kidney deficiency, keep a watchful eye when using8. The drying quality along with the diuretic effect can be too much for some bodies. Discontinue use or reduce intake if this becomes an issue.
Fresh nettle stings. Nothing terrible will happen aside from mild discomfort. Cooking, drying, or tincturing the plant will eliminate the potential for stinging.
Energetics: mildly warm, sweet
Historical Use: Reishi is widely known as the “mushroom of immortality,”2 and has been traditionally used to enhance longevity and vitality in Chinese medicine. Its use dates back to 200 BC in Traditional Chinese Medicine texts. It has a record of being used for cancer, fatigue, and lung deficiency, among many other applications9.
Western Therapeutics: Western practices recognize reishi as an immune tonic, inflammation support, and respiratory support Much like other edible/medicinal mushrooms, reishi is high in complex starches–specifically glucans–which the body interprets as a threat. This sounds spooky, but since these starches aren’t a real threat, the immune system gets low-stakes “training” on how to respond to something more serious2. An added bonus is that this reaction can also draw attention away from allergies or inflammatory immune response2. Reishi also supports lung structure and function, helps to cope with fatigue, and may support brain function. It is slow building, meaning that balance is achieved over time. This medicinal mushroom is also known for boosting energy, vitality, and promoting a sense of ease. Its calming quality is thought to promote restful sleep.
Because of its support on both the nervous and immune systems, it shows promise in assisting with recovery from illness9.
Contraindications: While reishi is generally safe, there is some room for caution when using with mold-sensitive individuals10. It may also be good to pay attention to potential interaction if someone is taking immunosuppressive pharmaceuticals. Should any issues arise, discontinue use.
Energetics: warm, sweet
Historical Use: Astragalus has been a prized medicinal herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Its use has been recorded up to 2,000 years ago. In this line of practice, it is considered a Qi tonic helping to build energy and stamina, and has also been employed in when dealing with illness11.
Western Therapeutics: Though its roots are in TCM, astragalus has easily become a top choice for immune support in western herbalism. Like medicinal mushrooms, astragalus root is high in polysaccharides which offer healthy practice for the immune system. In addition to immune support, this plant offers adaptogenic, diuretic, antiviral, and cardiotonic10. Since this herb is both antiviral, and immuno-modulating, it offers multiple avenues of support–supporting the immune system while also limiting viral action11.
Astragalus has been used to fight chronic infection, and can also offer support when dealing with auto-immune disease. This herb is moving and nourishing, and also offers liver, kidney, and cardio support2.
Contraindications: TCM practices advises to stop use if sick11. Seek professional guidance when using with auto-immune diseases11.
Energetics: cool, bitter, mildly sweet
Historical Use: Traditional Chinese Medicine uses Burdock seeds for sore throats with red, swollen presentation10. It is thought to clear heat and thus relieve red swelling conditions like boils, lesions, and the beginning stages of rashes from measles and chickenpox10. TCM also sees this herb as clearing out heat associated with anger, irritability, and restlessness.
In Japan, the raw root is known as Gobo, and has historically been used as food. This is done by slicing the root into thin portions, soaking it in vinegar water for 15 minutes, and finally boiling the slices in salt water. It is typically eaten in the morning, to help cleanse the body, add fiber into the diet, and help reduce cravings for sweetness10.
In many traditions, burdock root is used in soups and stir-fries alike.
Western Therapeutics: Burdock is widely known in western healing practices as being a triumphant ally for skin diseases like eczema, psoriasis, acne, and boils. Because of its ability to work on hot, irritated conditions, it is also used in managing symptoms in arthritis, rheumatism, and gout10. Burdock helps to flush out the kidney, clearing toxins which may ultimately alleviate lower back pain10. This herb is a prized blood, liver, kidney, and lymphatic cleanser, but it does more than flush these systems. Burdock is high in iron10 so it helps replenish some of the minerals that are lost through the detoxification process.
Contraindications: Generally safe, especially when used as food. Avoid using Burdock seeds while in the first two trimesters of pregnancy12. When using the tincture or decoction, it is best combined with diuretic herbs like dandelion to help support the detoxification process.
- Thompson, G. S. (2019). Understanding Anatomy & Physiology: A Visual, Auditory, Interactive Approach (3rd ed.). F. A. Davis Company.
- Groves, M. N. (2016). Body Into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care. Storey Publishing, LLC.
- Björkstén B. (2009). The hygiene hypothesis: do we still believe in it?. Nestle Nutrition workshop series. Paediatric programme, 64, 11–257. https://doi.org/10.1159/000235780
- Fajgenbaum, D. C., & June, C. H. (2020). Cytokine Storm. The New England journal of medicine, 383(23), 2255–2273. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMra2026131
- Role of Colostrum in Immune System Development https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2017.02100/full
- Adjuvants actions explained https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2013.00114/full
- Zefferino, R., Di Gioia, S., & Conese, M. (2021). Molecular links between endocrine, nervous and immune system during chronic stress. Brain and behavior, 11(2), e01960. https://doi.org/10.1002/brb3.1960
- Fowler, P. (2022, August 14). Histamines: What they do, and how they can overreact. WebMD. Retrieved May 24, 2023, from https://www.webmd.com/allergies/what-are-histamines
- Barrett, K. (n.d.). Nettle Monograph — HerbRally. HerbRally. Retrieved May 24, 2023, from https://www.herbrally.com/monographs/nettle
- Reishi Monograph — HerbRally. (n.d.). HerbRally. Retrieved February 20, 2023, from https://www.herbrally.com/monographs/reishi-mushroom
- Tierra, L. (2003). Healing with the Herbs of Life: Hundreds of Herbal Remedies, Therapies, and Preparations. Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed.
- Thompson, K. (n.d.). Astragalus Monograph — HerbRally. HerbRally. Retrieved May 23, 2023, from https://www.herbrally.com/monographs/astragalus
- Cech, R. (2000). Making Plant Medicine (4th ed.). Herbal Reads LLC.